Leeds Music Service Orchestra early 1990s, Colin Jones conductingLeeds Music \Service
Playing Week was when the orchestral instrument teachers paused in their weekly teaching sessions, formed an orchestra and went on tour of Leeds high schools. The "jazzers" formed a Big Band and did the same. As Head of Music and Expressive Arts at Foxwood High School [during late 80s and 90s], I had the very great pleasure of both these ensembles' presence at my school.
|Leeds Music Service jazz band with a whole lot of brass|
The Orchestra played my all time favourite piece of classical music, Fingal's Cave, and Brendan invited me to dance in front of all my students. [It wasn't that I was only just back off my maternity leave that was a problem; it was that I experimenting with wearing a suit and had my school keys exploding from the jacket pocket during the jive!]
So, when we were told, as part-time minorities, to continue teaching, I opined that we could seek out all the other part-timers and form our own band; and Diane said, and we'll play all the Special Schools. Thus the most carefully named Rest of the Best was born. And twenty years later still going strong, and in some demand, sadly much more than we can ever satisfy.
We take whoever is available for as many concerts as they are available for. Sometimes a flautist might only pop in for one gig; sometimes the recorder quartet is a soloist. Sometimes players get a chance to rehearse; sometimes they just turn up at the gig. You might think it makes for insecurity, but far from it; it puts us on the spot; it gives others a chance to try out something new, or to shine, or be soloists when they were expecting backing band. With each new set of band dynamics we get inspired; it keeps us fresh.
Usually our last school is our best concert, but not this year! How did that happen? It only took twenty years, but we rocked from the start. Day One saw us rehearse in the ArtForms Yellow Room, then we decamped to Milestone.
In rehearsal we were me, Diane, Fiona, Mike, Cathy, Bart, with first-timers: Chloe, Julia, Richard and Richard. At Milestone we were joined by Sophie.
Apart from entertaining the children with additional needs, we also lift the spirits of the teachers. They like watching the kids enjoy our tunes, interact and be moved by the music; plus they enjoy the music themselves. Then, we entertain ourselves, and in doing so bond a bit with each other, who we may not see all that often. Ships in the dark criss-crossing Leeds. At the concerts we don't sit next to the same people; we take turns taking the lead; we learn new repertoire from each other; we see what the children respond to. We meet new schools. It's like a little working holiday.
And here we are now twenty years later still at it.
Instrumentally we were keyboards, guitar, violin, sax, recorder, flute, bassoon, clarinet, steel pans, drum-kit, vocals, bass guitar,
In the afternoon we were at Brudenell, had lost Mike and Bart and gained Cathy and Tim.
Day Two found us at Rawdon St Peter's. We were now joined by Fiona and Joanna, and regained Mike. Here I meet teacher, Heather, who has booked East Steel for their summer fair in June. Love the connections.
Next we are at Green Meadows, just down the road in Guiseley. A warm reunion for me with Kevin, who I have known since he was a schoolkid at Bentley. Love the connections. Now we are joined by Sarah on violin. She was there to teach, but found herself on stage instead. Yo.
Our last stop on the 2016 tour of Leeds Special schools and schools with resourced units is at Broomfield over in South Leeds. We have lost Richard and Richard, and I find I am doing an unexpected steel pan solo. Even more unexpected I am asked to move the van just as I am about to embark on Under the Boardwalk. Keeps you on your feet, or in this case, in the carpark! [And I thought I had put it [the van] somewhere safe].
Exhausted but content, I sign off from Rest of the Best and go lead Quarry Mount Primary School's steel band at their International Evening. Possibly a gig too far.